Two Fletcher Students Receive 2022 Tufts Presidential Awards

Delia Burns, Lark Escobar recognized for humanitarian contributions
Delia Burns and Lark Escobar  headshots

Delia Burns and Lark Escobar Recognized for Service, Leadership, Civic Engagement

This year, Fletcher students Delia Burns MALD ‘22 and Lark Escobar MALD ‘22 were among 19 honorees to receive a Tufts Presidential Award, given annually to students from across the Tufts undergraduate and graduate schools who exemplify the highest levels of service, leadership and civic engagement.

The Fletcher community offers warm congratulations to Delia and Lark for this well-deserved honor and for their outstanding efforts on behalf of some of the world’s most imperiled populations.

Delia Burns - Human Security, Development Economics

Growing up in Northern California, Delia Burns remembers attending protests at a very young age and becoming interested in social justice and activism by the time she graduated high school. An internship in college followed by a summer in Kenya brought further clarity to her post-college path. She was drawn to Fletcher for the opportunity to bridge her advocacy calling with an abiding interest in the intersection of international politics and armed conflict.

War erupted in Ethiopia when she was a few months into her studies and working as a research assistant with the World Peace Foundation. Her focus on evidence collection work related to famine informed one of the first formal pieces of research warning of a potential famine affecting the war-torn region. The memo entitled Starving Tigray, which Delia co-authored, helped inform policymakers to officially declare a famine risk in the region four months later.

Her contributions to the global conversation about humanitarian atrocities in the Horn of Africa did not stop there; further research led her to identify and amplify the under-reported issue of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) committed against women and girls in Tigray. She remains committed to elevating the unprecedented crisis of mass sexual assault as a weapon of war, and campaigning for the rights of Tigrayan survivors.

Delia came to Fletcher intent on studying under World Peace Foundation Executive Director Dr. Alex de Waal, and she will leave Fletcher as a well-regarded researcher and human rights advocate whose impact on the world is only just beginning.

“To all the incredible professionals who have supported me along the way -- thank you, and I only hope to continue this work to bring these and other neglected tragedies to light,” she said. “And to the survivors in Tigray, we see and stand with you.”


Lark Escobar -- Human Security

When the Afghan government collapsed in August 2021, international educator, human rights advocate, and MALD candidate Lark Escobar sprung into action.

Relying on experience gained during a year-long deployment as English, Gender, & Culture Advisor at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan and head of the English department for NATO headquarters, Lark began working around the clock to coordinate the evacuation of Afghan colleagues associated with the Military Academy and the Defense Language Institute in Texas. This group includes educated, English-speaking professors, interpreters, pilots, commandos, doctors, Women for Afghan Women employees, journalists, and their respective families – all of whom are at-risk living in Afghanistan.

Unsurprisingly, the time commitment required to navigate complex immigration regulations for nearly 800 Afghan allies is immense. Lark estimates the volunteer group she formed, Fletcher Afghan Evacuation & Resettlement Working Group, has spent more than 4,800 hours registering evacuees with the Department of State and preparing their application packets for visas and background vetting. Further, a fundraising effort has raised $8,000 for 18 families to pay for safehouse fees, as well as humanitarian relief. 

Nearly a year later, 78,000 Special Immigrant Visa applicants are still awaiting evaluation. The first family in Lark’s group, who began their visa process before the August collapse, was recently evacuated by the Department of State. While this counts as a positive step, it’s tempered by the reality that many others are hiding and waiting, not knowing if they will live to see their visas approved. 

Lark, who is both a full-time evacuation coordinator of Special Immigrant Visa applicants and a full-time student at Fletcher, says of her commitment: “I’m running a military operation for military officers and their families to get them to safety…from halfway around the world. For Afghan colleagues who are prevented from fleeing their dire situation, it’s my ethical obligation to do everything humanly possible to help.”

Follow Delia Burns on  LinkedIn

Follow Lark Escobar on LinkedIn